5-7-01, 4:40 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
Less than 36 hours after losing their last healthy fullback to knee surgery, the Bengals reached an agreement Monday with eight-year veteran Lornezo Neal on a two-year deal.
Neal, 30, known as one of the NFL's top blocking backs after stints with New Orleans, the Jets, Tampa Bay and Tennessee, arrives in Cincinnati as the starter after helping Titans running back Eddie George to his last two 1,000-yard seasons.
Nick Williams, projected as the Bengals' starting fullback,
tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee Sunday during a receiving drill and is feared lost for the season. Clif Groce, the Bengals other fullback, won't be cleared for several weeks as his sprained medial collateral knee ligament heals.
Williams is holding out hope that next week's surgery reveals so little damage that he would be able to return near the halfway point of the season. But medical opinion would most likely call that a longshot.
The 5-11, 240-pound Neal is strictly a blocking back. In the past four seasons, he has carried the ball 18 times. But his running backs, George, Tampa Bay's Warrick Dunn, and the Jets' Adrian Murrell, have logged 1,000-yard seasons.
"This is a big pickup for us for a lot of reasons," said scout Duke Tobin, who negotiated the deal with agent Jim Steiner. "Clearly we need a guy and he brings so much to the table. Experience. Tenacity. Toughness. Durability. And he's a great kid."
Also Monday, the Bengals released cornerback Sirr Parker. The club had tried to convert Parker from offense to defense after picking him off waivers in training camp last year.